Doting Pet Parents Drive Innovation in Packaging Design, Technology

Pet food brands are embracing new packaging design strategies and technologies to meet pet parents’ desire for fresher, healthier pet food products and sustainable packaging. See four recent examples.


Quick hits:

  • To convey the premium positioning of its all-natural, own-brand dog and cat food products, Walmart worked with brand design firm Equator on a packaging design strategy that highlights these brand attributes.
  • Pet food sales via e-commerce are increasing at a rapid pace. D2C company PetPlate, which offers customized meal plans for a pet’s individual health needs, has amped up its personalization strategy and enhanced the unboxing experience with marketing technology from UnDigital that creates custom inserts for its shipments. 
  • Co-manufacturer/co-packager NaturPak Pet has become the first CM&P to provide super-premium wet dog food in the Tetra Recart retort carton. The carton not only protects the product in shelf-stable conditions, but also offers a number of sustainable packaging benefits—both of which pet parents are seeking out.

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Hello, this is Anne Marie Mohan, Senior Editor of Packaging World magazine, with Take Five video with Packaging World

Over the last several years, the trend toward the humanization of pets has taken off, driving greater innovation and sales in pet food products and services. Pet humanization is the expression of the “pets as family trend,” where pet owners treat their pets like children and are looking for and are willing to spend more on products similar in quality to those they purchase for themselves.

Recently, we reported on several pet food brands that are capitalizing on this trend. The first example is Pure Balance, a super-premium, all-natural dog and cat food brand from Walmart. In 2020, Walmart worked with Equator to update the packaging design for Pure Balance, as well as create graphics for a sub-brand called PRO+.

The focus of Pure Balance is all-natural, high-quality ingredients and health benefits. To emphasize this, Equator used photography of the ingredients in each variety on the front of the pack. Think pictures of fresh meat, vegetables, and rice that convey quality and flavor. Next to that is a list of product claims and benefits. Prominent on each pack is photo of a dog or cat, making the design pet-centric. Black and grey backgrounds create a premium, sophisticated feel.

PRO+ takes the health and wellness benefits of Pure Balance one step further, with products that address specific needs of pets. For PRO+, the main focus of the design is copy that details the health benefits of each product, with ingredient photography secondary.

Another example is one within the e-commerce sector. PetPlate is a direct-to-consumer pet food company that offers ready-to-eat meals and organic treats and supplements through a subscription service. Unique to PetPlate is that it creates customized meal plans for a pet’s individual health needs.

To add an extra touch of personalization and to enhance the unboxing experience, PetPlate is now adding an insert to a consumer’s first shipment that provides customized feeding instructions for their pet. To create the insert, PetPlate is using personalized marketing technology from UnDigital. The platform comprises software and Epson on-demand printers that allow brands to personalize inserts and then measure the results directly at the fulfillment center.

According to PetPlate, since it began including the inserts, there has been a 20% decrease in customer inquiries regarding feeding guidelines, as well as an overall improvement in the customer experience and a clearer, easier transition to onboarding new customers.

The next two examples are of companies that are using new processing and packaging technologies to eliminate preservatives, increase shelf life, and enhance the quality of pet food products.

One of them is a company I visited last year in Wisconsin called NaturPak Pet. The co-owner of the business, Pawel Marciniak, is a former engineer with Tetra Pak who has built two highly successful businesses on the packaging technology he helped create, the Tetra Recart retort packaging platform. NaturPak’s premium and super-premium wet dog and cat food is manufactured using a small-batch process that enables it to create specific textures and flavors for different pet preferences.

Using Tetra Recart, NaturPak is able to package its products in a shelf-stable carton versus a can. Wet food products require in-pack retort cooking and sterilization, which is why cans have traditionally been used. The Recart system allows multilayer cartons to withstand the retort process.

As Marciniak explained to me, by using the paper-based carton, NaturPak is able to preserve the quality of the product while increasing the sustainability of its packaging—both of which pet parents are looking for today.

Another technology that’s been adopted by a number of fresh pet food brands is High Pressure Processing, which uses pressure rather than heat to pasteurize products. In a recent UnPACKed with PMMI podcast, Nicole Lindsley, owner of pioneering raw pet food company Steve’s Real Foods explained how her company began using HPP to meet new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Lindsley shared that while pets can handle the bacteria in raw meats, their pet parents can’t. Steve’s Real Foods adopted HPP to make it safer for humans to handle the food and make them more comfortable feeding their pets raw product.

The use of HPP, she says, has enabled Steve’s Real Foods to increase the shelf life of its frozen and freeze-dried products by six months, allowing the company to expand its distribution. It also enhances convenience for those pet parents who want to feed their fur babies high-quality raw foods.

That’s all for this edition of Take Five video with Packaging World.

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